Diabetes increases the risk of serious chronic health problems, including foot ulcers and amputations. But good glucose control and proper foot care are highly effective at preventing these complications.

The better patients can control their blood glucose the lower the risk of foot ulcers and amputations

People with diabetes are at high risk of complications such as heart, eye and kidney disease. They can also develop foot ulcers, a leading cause of amputations. These are 30 times more likely in those with the condition than in the general population. Worldwide, every 30 seconds someone with diabetes has a lower limb amputated. About 120 diabetes-related amputations occur each week in England alone.

 

Why foot ulcers occur

Libby Dowling, Clinical Advisor at Diabetes UK, says: “High blood glucose levels can damage nerves and vessels, impairing skin sensation and blood flow, particularly in the feet. So people with diabetes may develop a foot problem without realising it. And once this has turned into an ulcer, it is difficult to heal due to lack of oxygen and nutrients from the blood. Ultimately, if the ulcer gets infected, amputation becomes a possibility.”

 

What can be done

The better patients can control their blood glucose the lower the risk of foot ulcers and amputations, says Dowling. Patients should also “check their feet daily for damage and for changes in shape, skin colour and temperature, and report these to their GP. Annual foot checks by a specialist are also crucial, as is wearing well-fitting shoes and keeping feet clean and moisturised.”

 

Highly preventable

Dowling adds: “Many diabetic foot ulcers and related complications could be avoided.” Indeed, estimates show that amputations, for example, are preventable in 80 per cent of cases. “It is really important that patients receive support and education in effectively managing their diabetes and taking good care of their feet,” says Dowling.